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Jim Oatman was a Springville icon

I look back to 2012, and we are void of an icon. On Sept. 6, 2012, this community lost a husband, father, friend, fireman, businessman, and mentor. That individual was I. James Oatman.

Jimmy, as he was better known, was the best. I first met Jimmy in 1970, when he started working for Weismantel Funeral Home. As kids, Jimmy was known to us as Mr. Oatman. That’s because Jimmy was always old, but in a good way.

To my parents, Jimmy walked on water. As I look back on my youth, it’s easier to realize why he was a guy to look up to. Although stern and gruff, he was always very caring. If you didn’t know how to do something, he would show you. However, you’d better listen, because if you didn’t, that’s when he defined “stern.”

As a child, I knew him as a man that you feared and respected. However, as you grew older, you realized what a mentor he was, to several individuals. When I introduced Jimmy as the citizen of the year in 2011, I commented that Jim was “born old.” That comes from the movie “It’s a Wonder Life,” when George is sitting with his father and his father looked at him and said, “I was never worried about you, George. You were born old. You always knew what to do.” That was Jimmy. What an honor to introduce him.

I can tout all of Jim’s accomplishments, but what this community lost was someone who cared. Jim had his hands into everything more than people realize. He did things quietly and under the radar. This community is better, because of Jimmy.

His job was challenging. How many of us he helped with death. But his heart and compassion helped us get through it.

I’ve buried my parents and Jim was a rock, both times. I saw the human side of Jimmy, especially when I buried my mother. For several years, Jim lived above the funeral home, and he was Mom’s favorite neighbor. In fact, Mom liked Jim better than her kids.

When Mom was dying, she asked for Jimmy. I told her I had seen him earlier and that he asked about her. Mom wanted to see him. Later that day, I went to see Jim. The first thing out of his mouth was, “How is your mom?” I told Jimmy that Mom was asking for him. He looked at me, with a tear in his eye, and said, “Michael, she does not want to see me.” I argued with him, the first and only time I argued with Jim, and said, “She does.” He replied, “Your mother is dying. I’m a funeral director. She does not want to see me.”

It took years for me to have a talk with Jim about this, and he firmly said, “I did the right thing.” This stern individual was the most compassionate man I ever met.

I’m sure we all have our favorite Jimmy stories, being that he was larger than life. We all can attest that it was Jim’s way or nothing.

We lost somebody big. Someone whom we could never replace. I’m confident that Jim is looking down, with that beautiful smile, and we are still in his care.

Godspeed, Jimmy.

Michael Benson

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